Selection as Student Commencement Speaker Fulfills Himmelman's Goal

Isaac Himmelman
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

By Tyler Manoukian '13

It’s no secret that many of this year’s graduates will be facing difficult challenges in the coming months. When Isaac Himmelman ’12 (political science) addressed the Class of 2012 at Commencement on Friday, May 11, his message to them put their futures in perspective.

“One day, our weeks are laid out for us in 50-minute cubes on an easy to read online calendar designed by the friendly folks at OIT. The next thing we know we’re thrust into a world of job hunting and economic uncertainty,” said the Santa Monica, Calif. native.

Himmelman spoke about how the University and his classmates have become his extended family. “The last time I graduated, it was with a class of around 50 kids,” he said. “But four years later…I realize that this place has become home…and these people have become family.”

Before wrapping up his address Himmelman offered a reassurance to his classmates: “[Our parents and professors] tell us we are graduating college and entering a broken and imperfect world—they’re not wrong. “But let us not forget that when we enter into this broken world we are doing so 5,000 strong and we are doing so together.”

UMass Experience

Choosing a major came easily for Himmelman. His interest in political science began during his senior year of high school while taking part in Model UN. It just took off from there,” he says. “I also lived in Israel [from August 2007 to January 2008], which got me interested in the politics of the Middle East.”

Himmelman believes he tapped the University’s many and seemingly limitless resources during his time as an undergraduate. “The great thing about UMass is that it offers students every opportunity you can imagine, in academics and extracurriculars,” he says. He was a part of Sketch 22, an on-campus comedy troupe and Mission: IMPROVable, an improvisation comedy group that has been active at UMass since 1991. Both are sub-groups within Student Valley Productions, one of UMass’ many registered student organizations. He also wrote columns for the Daily Collegian, and took classes through the Five College Interchange program.

A boxer and pianist, Himmelman’s passion for performance led him to a stint with the Daniel Pearl Foundation, where he helped coordinate its second annual world-music festival. He plans a career in television and film performance and writing.

Following graduation, Himmelman plans to move to New York to pursue a career in television and film performance and writing. “I’m in pursuit of a job right now and I'll continue doing improv there too if all goes as planned,” he says. Meanwhile, he urges those who remain at and are coming to UMass to take advantage of all UMass has to offer, "because it's an amazing place.”

Selection Process

Applying to be Commencement Speaker had been on Himmelman’s mind for a while—since sophomore year, in fact. “I lived with seniors in the North apartments then and my roommate, Tom, tried out for the role,” he says. “He practiced his speech on me and I thought, ‘You know, that’d be a cool thing to try and do once my senior year comes around.’”

But the road to get there was far from easy. The application process is competitive. This year, seven finalists were asked to deliver a speech to a committee comprised of students and faculty.

Writing his speech was difficult, and so he began by spending a day reading transcripts of past commencement speeches. It is daunting to summarize a college experience that others can relate to. A friend suggested Himmelman reflect on the question: “What should we take away from the college experience?” “I thought about that for a good week or so—at the gym, walking to class, before bed,” he says. “I didn’t come up with any one answer, but asking the question definitely helped me write the speech.”

“The combination of Isaac’s well crafted speech and his spirited delivery won the day,” says Professor Karen List, director of the Journalism Program, who is a member of the selection committee. “He loves UMass, and that really came through.” Says Himmelman, “My four years were fantastic, and I was honored to speak to that.”

Tyler Manoukian '13 (journalism) is a communication intern in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Dean's Office.